‘I wanted something that was mine’: why I bought a house at 25

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If in January of this train wreck of a year you told me I would be purchasing a house at the ripe age of 25, I would have laughed in your face. How could I, a millennial working in the not-so-lucrative field of journalism, afford a home? My generation has been spat the narrative that it is more likely to see a unicorn frolicking through Times Square than for a twentysomething to buy a house. And unfortunately, there is truth to it, especially for those of us who live in bigger, more expensive cities.

It’s not as if we don’t want to own homes. I’m not the only twentysomething with aspirational Zillow alerts set up on my phone, allowing me to spend hours browsing through unaffordable houses as some twisted form of escapism. I just never believed I could actually purchase one of the houses I had saved on the app.

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I grew up hearing stories about my immigrant grandparents moving from apartment to apartment in Flushing, New York, always owing a landowner and never owning land. My Indian-Pakistani Muslim grandparents finally bought a stake in the proverbial American dream and put down roots in New Jersey before eventually buying a home to be closer to their grandchildren in Texas. I always admired their achievement. I wanted that for myself. I wanted to do it for them.

You’re probably wondering how I was able to afford a home after only having lived a quarter of a century. The topic of personal finances is usually considered impolite conversation, but the way I see it, keeping that information private only benefits the ultra-rich. I’m no trust-fund baby. I didn’t marry an old, wealthy aristocrat. And no, the answer is not cutting back on my avocado toast or Starbucks coffees.

No, this is not a story of hard work, a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” journey, Hillbilly Elegy-style. It is a story of luck combined with a value placed on education and the desire to help the next generation.

This luck started with my grandparents, who had the good sense to board a plane to America in the 1960s. My parents then had the good sense to attend university and get degrees, secure jobs and settle in Texas – a state rife with real estate for the taking. (Had they moved to California or New York instead, my story would have been different).

While the Covid pandemic has sown financial devastation and mass unemployment across the country, a privileged few of us have narrowly escaped the clutches of the economic slump. When the global pandemic struck, I temporarily decided to leave Queens for Texas. With a small tote bag filled with my laptop and some clothes, I traveled back home, living between the homes of friends and family. I am far from unique: 52% of people aged 18-29 moved back in with their parents during the pandemic.

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Working my big-girl job from my childhood bedroom wasn’t just infantilizing – it was a reminder that in an economy where millions of us have nowhere to go except the humble basement in our parents’ homes, the path to meritocracy still has ways to go.

During lockdown, my mind kept traveling back to home ownership. I wanted something that was mine. Maybe I could pass it down or build wealth off of it. Why, after all, should generational wealth only benefit white people?

I continued to ponder through this moral dilemma as I began my search back in Texas. Listings were limited but priced to sell. Interest rates were at a record low, as I would soon find out for myself. This was my chance to jump.

I dove head-first into the details. I learned terms like escrow and equity and soon, I was able to differentiate between an FHA and conventional loan. I stuck hundreds of pins on a map of houses, like a small-town detective uncovering a homicide.

My gross salary is somewhere around the modest figure of $60,000, putting it somewhat lower than the average salary in New York and higher than the US average. And though I consider myself to be a fastidious saver, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge what allowed me to stash cash away in the first place.

I’m a second-generation American whose parents paid for 90% of my university education – a luxury only 29% of US college students know. My parents, who had known student debt all too well in their youth, decided they would never let their children endure it if they could help it. As of 2018, three out of 10 of parents reported that they plan to pay for their kids’ entire college education. Millennials who graduated in the class of 2019 each have an average of $29,900 in student loans.

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Upon graduation from my public state college, I had $9,500 in student debt – peanuts compared to most of my friends.

My lack of debt placed me farther ahead of my peers in the race to wealth and allowed me to move across the country to New York, where I expected to join my friends in the poorhouse. I spent my first year in the city thrilled at the opportunity to pay $1,150 a month for a closet-sized room fit for Harry Potter, but I eventually stumbled on cheaper rent – at $700 for a room in a two-bedroom apartment in Queens. I was able to save $450 a month for a few years, with around $1,800 left in disposable income a month. Sure, I had to seriously watch how much I stress-shopped and how often I went out with friends, but I was eventually able to pay off my student loans, and save an additional $14,000. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this gave me enough for a down payment on a three-bedroom house in Texas.

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I made an appointment with a realtor in a small college town in Texas. Two weeks later, I was going to socially distanced open-houses and emailing banks and mortgage companies to see if I could qualify for a home loan.

Finally, one exchange with a local bank bore fruit. I was pre-approved for a home loan of $151,000. Suddenly, buying a house in a pandemic was not such a crazy idea at all. Soon after, a house for $165,000 came on the market. I took a tour that lasted a few minutes. There were a few major repairs needed but overall it seemed comfortable, if a little small (for Texas, anyway).

On 7 July 2020, I was signing documents in a face mask at a title company. I was a homeowner.

On the drive back, a wave of panic rushed over me. Had I just made a huge mistake? What the hell did I intend to do with a whole house? I can’t live here forever! Would renting it out make me a greedy capitalist slumlord?

I sat in the driveway and took a good look at the project I was about to start. I decided not to hate myself for finding my footing on the precipice that is American capitalism.

I decided if I were to ever hold the title of “landlord”, that I would do so with the compassion and kindness my landlord in Queens showed me. I’d keep rent steady and controlled. I wouldn’t hike up rent just to make a buck so it wouldn’t exceed the monthly mortgage payment or average rent for the area. I would never threaten or exploit anyone with eviction. If someone falls on hard times, I will make it work. I will extend the kindness shown to me. I am morally obligated to do so.

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In the coming months I would empty out my savings, max out my credit cards at the Home Depot, and learn how to install a washer and dryer and garbage disposal. I took a sledgehammer to drywall as if the drywall was the year 2020.

It’s been a few months since I purchased this house. Sometimes, I genuinely forget it’s mine. For all intents and purposes, that house is my new savings account, future investment property, and possible retirement home if this whole journalism thing doesn’t pan out. I will continue to pay into it for the next few years so that it may soon pay itself off and appreciate in value over time.

Owning a home at 25 should not be considered an achievement

Owning a home at 25 should not be considered an achievement. It should be achievable for everyone living in the wealthiest nation in the world. It shouldn’t take a pandemic and economic downturn for someone with a decent income to own a home.

I’m known to make impulsive decisions, and buying a house may have just been a drastic attempt to grasp at some form of stability in these turbulent times. If I could go back to the beginning of 2020, I’d tell myself to buckle up for the wild year about to come. Today, I tell myself and anyone willing to listen that it’s important to be financially transparent. I also tell anyone willing to listen that it’s OK to congratulate yourself for each win, big or small. If you made rent or your mortgage this month, you’re doing great. If you couldn’t and need some help, well done for asking for it.

We often only talk about money to pretend to have it all together, when in fact our generation has been dealt a terrible hand .

I made peace with the fact that I should not feel guilty for my station in life, so long as I am passing the baton behind me to another person reaching for the same financial security – just as my grandparents have done for me. Stability is not, as I once thought, a race to be won, but rather what should be the bare minimum standard in the world’s richest country.